The site was once part of Rush/Rushey Common. Houses built here in 1839 were demolished when the new library was built in 1893, paid for by Henry Tate, who had settled in Streatham Common at Park Hill in 1884.
After his death in 1899 his widow commemorated his considerable philanthropy by the purchase of Brixton Oval, which she presented to the local Council for a public garden in 1905, to be called the Tate Library Garden. A bust of Sir Henry was erected by public subscription and the garden was laid out with raised flower beds and surrounded with railings. In 1937 a small area was taken for road widening and in 1965-66 it was re-landscaped.